We All Say “Father”

Lately, I have been seeing a story connecting the leader of an American political party to a Christian revival that happened in the Isle of Lewis in the early twentieth century.

The Isle of Lewis stories are legendary. I still remember the awe they inspired when I learned about them over a decade ago. But here are some reasons that I think this video is insulting to Christian doctrine:

  • It is a distinctive Christian doctrine that every person can and should be born again. We ask God to “renew a right spirit” within us. When we do this, God can make us his sons and daughters. This miracle of renewal may come to a whole family at once, as seen in Acts 16:15, Acts 18:8, and perhaps 1 Corinthians 1:16. But the miracle of regeneration is, even in those cases, an individual miracle that involves submission of the will.
  • It is a distinctive Christian doctrine that you are personally accountable to God for how you live. It doesn’t matter how great your parents are or were. There are no coattails to grab hold of on the way to heaven.
  • It is a distinctive Christian doctrine that righteousness is both accounted to us through the work of Christ and proven by how we live as a result of that. It doesn’t matter who you met or where you were; that doesn’t make you a good person. I could receive prayer from the Pope, Gandhi, and Joel Osteen, and go home just as filthy a sinner as I began.

The raw implication of this story is that a metaphysical righteousness or anointing was passed on to this political leader through a personal connection that his mother had. The very thought is both revolting and utterly foreign to New Testament teaching about the world. The idea that we are righteous or wicked through what we touch is not a Christian concept. It is what is inside us that makes us unclean.

In the Bible, certain miracles do happen merely through contact (i.e., without a specific petition to God), such as the man who revived by touching Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 13:21); the healings through Paul’s handkerchiefs were also used by God (Acts 19:11-12), but it would not be improper to infer that these were merely tokens used to inspire faith in the Messiah, which is the one root of Christian righteousness.

The New Testament addresses this issue of “spiritual grandchildren” very specifically:

“To them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13, KJV)

John writes that we are not born of blood, or of the flesh, or of a man (i.e., a husband). You can take these specifically to refer in turn to DNA, reproduction, and to inheritance, or you can take the three of them as a figure of speech which confirms in triplicate the truth that I began this post with: it doesn’t matter how great your parents were. There are no spiritual grandchildren. When we look to God, none of us say, “Uncle” or “Grandpa.” We all say “Father.”

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